The Tempest read-along – Acts I & II

Shakespeare’s, The Tempest is unique among his plays in many ways. The most interesting to me is that it appears to be the only play of his where he made up the plot entirely on his own.  Other plays are based, admittedly sometimes very loosely, on historical, legendary, or mythological events, but there doesn’t seem to be a ‘source story’ here.  It has been argued that the inspiration for the play was a ‘current event’ of the time – that being the 1609 voyage of a fleet of supply ships bound for the colony of Jamestown in America which encountered bad weather, losing it’s flagship In storms around the islands of Bermuda. The Tempest is also thought to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote entirely on his own, without collaborators.

 The first two acts of the play (which stage one of the read-along covers) generally set the stage for the main action later.  It starts quite dramatically with the the crew of a ship struggling to save their ship in a storm (a tempest, if you will). The passengers of the ship are royalty from Naples and Milan, and provide some brief comic relief in the opening scene, getting in the way of the earnest efforts of the crew “you do assist the storm!”

In the second scene we learn that there is a ‘puppet-master’ behind all these events:  Prospero.  Described as the “right Duke of Milan” in the Dramatis Personae, we learn he has been deposed by his brother, Antonio, and has been living in exile on an island with his daughter Miranda.  She knows something of his “powers ” (his position was usurped at least in part because he spent too much time in ‘secret books,’ apparently learning the ways of magic) and asks him to stop the storm, as she feels empathy toward the crew.  Prospero begins to tell her something of her past in Milan, before their exile.  She surprises him by remembering, though young when they departed, some detail of their time there.  This leads Prospero to say, “what seest thou else, in the dark backward and abysm of time?”  I love the language “dark backward and abysm of time.”  Funny, I just looked up “abysm” on to see the difference, if any, between that word and “abyss” and the definition is given as: ABYSS <the dark backward and abysm of time – Shakespeare>.  Neat.

We also meet one of Prospero’s two servants, Ariel.  A spirit of some kind that had been imprisoned (within a piece of driftwood for twelve years!) on the island by its prior owner/resident, the witch Sycorax.  In payment for freeing him, some bargain has been made where Ariel will serve Prospero for a determined period of time.  With Ariel’s help & powers, Prospero has conjured the storm which has brought his ‘enemies’ to the shores of the island.  Ariel is careful to strand them in various locations, not all together – perhaps this makes future staging of the play easier than if they were all in one group.  Left alone is Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples.  Miranda sees him and thinks him the noblest man she has ever seen (indeed, besides her father and his other servant, the wretched Caliban, Ferdinand is the ONLY man she has ever seen).  The other ‘nobles’ are washed ashore in a group, as are the two ‘comic’ characters, Trinculo and Stephano.  One of the latter stumbles upon Caliban (the offspring of the witch) sheltering underneath a blanket and provides some comic relief when Stephano finds them as well.  Our visit with the stranded nobles does not endear them to us, however.  With the exception of the King of Naples, who is sure his son has perished, they all give a rather distatesful, self-serving impression.  They are clearly “the bad guy” in the play, but who is “the good guy?”  Prospero seems a little shady too, in my opinion.  Perhaps the final acts will illuminate for us…

My First Introduction to Shakespeare’s The Tempest

We always hear stories from people – usually those who have achieved some great success and are being interviewed or otherwise lauded for their success – and they often seem to include a specific teacher or two who had a great influence on the person doing the “achieving.”

I of course had a few teachers/professors like this too (it’s just that I haven’t achieved anything yet!). Among them was an English Literature professor at Wabash College, one Thomas Campbell. At the time I was in college, he was one of the younger, “cooler” profs, and I took a class of his – damned if I can remember the exact title of it – on Medieval (& beyond) English Literature, dealing a lot with the Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, and Shakespeare, among others. Campbell was one of those professors who students could tell was genuinely excited about his subject. Professors like this always carried a little more authority with me, almost as if to say, “well here’s a grownup who clearly thinks this stuff is cool, so there must be SOMETHING to it, even if I don’t get it yet.”

Wabash College was a great school that often made non-standard forms of entertainment available (for free) to it’s students, including contemporary and sometimes classic movies in the huge campus theatre. (this building still makes me cringe in horror as I am reminded of sitting through a semester of 8am chemistry lectures in its amphitheater – staying awake through that entire period was a miracle rarely achieved; thank God handouts were provided!) Anyway, I think it was my senior year when they showed the classic 1956 sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet.

Professor Campbell was the faculty member who introduced the film to those in attendance (I was already familiar with it from seeing it on tv – possibly on WTTV’s “Science Fiction Theater” on Saturday night, which was a staple of the entertainment of my youth). He enthusiastically pointed out that the film was essentially a sci-fi version of The Tempest, matching the film characters to those in the play one by one. I remember that he also took time to point out some of the “campier” elements, e.g. that the crew of the spaceship – with their neat little uniforms and their caps resembled a professional sports club (“They’re a BASEBALL team!” I distinctly remember him proclaiming)

Anyway, once the intro was done we settled into our seats and enjoyed this classic movie. In fact, I seem to remember that – since these were the days of the old-fashioned films on reels (yes, I’m THAT old) – Campbell would take advantage of the reel-changing pauses to comment further on the film which again would often include it’s similarities to The Tempest. If you’ve never seen this movie, I’d recommend giving it a view. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’re undoubtedly already familiar with it, BUT if you’re also a fan of literature and never made the connection noticing that it could be seen as a remake of The Tempest, it may be time to watch it again…


Above: a movie poster for forbidden planet, and the house (since demolished to make room for a new one) where I lived most of my college days.

Time for a Little Shakespeare: The Tempest read-along!

Hi all,

Allie – over at A Literary Odyssey – is hosting another read-along, this time for Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Click this link to see the details.  Hope you will join us!


“Progress” Report

I finished my eighth “Civil War Book” of the year yesterday morning. I’ll post more about it later, but Killer Angels by Michael Shaara was quite good – blend of fiction and facts that tells the tale of the Battle of Gettysburg. My only concern is that, further down the road, I may have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction when remembering things about this battle (i.e. “did Lee really say that, or was that just a line from Killer Angels?, etc.).

I almost feel like I’ve spent the past few days in southeastern Pennsylvania, though, and some things from this book even invaded my dreams. I can’t say that I’m surprised it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

What’s up next? Well, I’ve already read my book club’s August book (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) earlier this year and, though I’ll review it before my meeting, I won’t need to spend too much time on it. I’m on schedule for my P:CW reading, so I pretty much have the rest of August to “read whatever I want.” I may re-read Shakespeare’s The Tempest and participate in Allie’s read-along, as I think I have a few things I’d like to write about that play and my history with it. And, I feel like I may go on a kick of reading Kurt Vonnegut. I mentioned Slapstick in an earlier post, but I also bought Sirens of Titan yesterday, which I’ve always wanted to read, and I downloaded Breakfast of Champions to my nook last week. One good thing about Vonnegut’s books is that they’re generally shorter than most that I read, so why not knock out two or three of them by the end of the month?

What about you? Have you read any Vonnegut? Do you have any recommendations?

Well, sadly, my morning at the coffee shop is ending and I guess I’d better report to work on time. (damn rat race…) >